An English speaking listener may not fully realize the unabashedly sexual content of Pabllo Vittar’s music. Through the use of direct and explicit descriptions, the Brazilian drag queen and music icon seamlessly works sex into every part of her music. This is historic. Traditionally, LGTBQ artists have been repeatedly stifled from openly declaring the content of their music, forced into using metaphors and innuendos digestible by a heteronormative society. Vittar, who identifies as a gay man, overturns this social convention, unabashedly sexualizing herself in drag and himself out of drag. The music of 111 is the sound of gay sexual liberation. However, for all the progress it makes, Vittar’s music is still confined to the sounds and spaces traditionally allotted to the LGBTQ community. The not-so-subtle sexual descriptions in her music all allude to a long established gay hookup culture, her music stuck retelling the same stereotypical stories associated with gay culture. Furthermore, Vittar performs a combination of genres in rasteirinha and funk carioca, both decedents from the lineages of electronic and dance club music, a sonic style that recapitulates the same stereotypical culture. Forty years after the AIDS epidemic brought gay sex-life into the public eye, the LGBTQ community is still stuck in the ‘back room’ of a nightclub. Her music just turns on the lights. For better or worse, the ‘111’ album affirms a duality which both liberates gay male listeners, while simultaneously re-confining them to certain stereotypes.
This duality can be seen by comparing the music Vittar performs to the where it is performed. Social progress has allowed Vittar’s music to gain broad social acceptance into mainstream society. Now, she can be found dancing on beaches of Brazil and the stages of music festivals. However, despite the increase in freedom, her music’s genre still presents an image of the gay dance club. This sentiment comes from the very sound of the music. Most of the genre Vittar performs is derived from Brazilian or American forms of dance and electronic music, forming a foundation for all of her art. Specifically, the genre of rasteirinha is a style Vittar heavily employs in ‘111’. Combining electronic music mixed with samba and other dance genres, it is very modern and very Brazilian, but otherwise echoes the presence of a repeated theme in gay culture: the dance club. Vittar’s music is dramatically modernized improvement, but it is still performatively the same concept as music used in a late 70s dance club.
Why the 70’s? Because the source of Vittar’s cultural stricture probably comes from a culture heavily ingrained before the AIDES epidemic. In 1980, early LGTBQ theorist Tim Lawrence described the dance clubs of New York City to be one of the only places safe from persecution. However, he elaborates that the opportunity provided by a darkened space meant that sex itself was rampant in the clubs. Lawrence quotes Brent Nicolson Earl as he says, “’I went up to the balcony—to heaven—and did things I probably shouldn’t have been doing’” (430). Afterall, with so little sexual freedom offered to them, often it was a matter of taking it where they could get it. The dancefloor and its surrounding environs became the place that was hypersexualize, fusing the hookup culture into gay history and identity.
So, when Vittar performs in drag, the style of dance is congruous, creating a space for a sexualized type of dance music with the same lingering hints of the traditional gay haven. One of these not so subtle undertones is the way this dance music is the style of dance performed. Vittar’s music is accompanied by elaborate dance routines with various promiscuous outfits. For example, in the music video for “Tímida,” Vittar is seen getting down with Thalia in outfits consisting of things like a white string thong with fishnets and a corset, black leather straps and skintight mesh, and a leopard print leotard. So even though the music and outfits are far more in keeping with modern taste than anything from Lawrence’s time, it still has roots in the idea of a club setting and sexualized dancing.
Similarly, The lyrics of the music depict more along the lines of the back room or upstairs balcony. The explicitly sexual content includes many allusions to hookup culture and particular sexual acts. For example, in “Salvaje” Vittar sings, “Si vienes ya me fui,” translating in English to roughly mean, ‘when you come, I will leave.’ In addition to being clearly sexual, this implies a style of hookup culture that many gay men are overly familiar with. In the music produced by an LGTBQ artist, it is a recapitulation of the anonymity or distance gay men used for security in the 70’s. In today’s music, this sentiment still holds weight among many LGBTQ people.
Before deciding whether to support Vittar’s music, the LGBTQ community has to decide if dance floor identity is good. Lawrence argued it was freeing to have that space. However, Lawrence also indicates that when the AIDES epidemic escalated, the sexual promiscuity of these spaces became highly contentious. He quotes Larry Kramer saying, “I am sick of guys who moan that giving up careless sex until this blows over is worse than death…how can they value life so little and cocks and asses so much.” (431). This creates a debate on whether promiscuity is freedom and empowerment, or if it comes from carelessness and self-interest. As of today, gay men are still criticized for promiscuity, leaving the debate unresolved.
From the perspective of someone living post March 2020, the best way to answer this question is by looking through the lens of Covid-19. In 2020, there is a very similar debate on what level of social distancing is necessary and what limits freedom. This debate is likely to continue as long as the virus prevails. However, with coronavirus there is an obvious end point to the debate. It will be resolved when vaccinations and immunization therapies become readily available. So the universal acceptance of Vittar’s music should be when parallel treatments are available for HIV and other STIs.
When gay men no long have to live in fear of disease and death as a result of sexual promiscuity, then it will become solely an act of liberation, and listening to Pabllo Vittar will begin to lose controversy. Then, when watching the music video for “Amor de Que,” the viewer wont become anxious as they watch the trail of men depicted as going to bed with Vittar. When these medicines are equally accessible in countries of all levels of wealth, listening to the music in any language will not change its significance.
In 2020 the LGBTQ community is on the cusp of having these treatments for everyone. PrEP has been developed to stop the infection of HIV and it is gradually expanding in accessibility. As Vittar’s 111 album is released into a world with a developing treatment, the problematic aspects of the album’s will eventually sexualization fall away. Soon, Vittar and her music can become a new symbol for the gay communities claim on sexual empowerment. The dancefloor culture started as a way for gay men to become free, and it crashed and burned with the AIDES epidemic. But now it can be resurrected, supported by Vittar and other LGBTQ artists to help revitalize the dancefloor as a safe space by socially and once again sexually.
Lawrence, Tim. Life and Death on the New York Dance Floor, 1980-1983. Duke University Press, 2016.